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Barge operator Bouchard Transportation files for Chapter 11

Melville-based Bouchard's  barge Buster Bouchard, B. No.

Melville-based Bouchard's  barge Buster Bouchard, B. No. 255 was involved in an October 2017 explosion off Port Aransas, Texas. The company has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Credit: U.S. Coast Guard

A 102-year-old Long Island petroleum barge operator involved in a string of accidents, including a fatal explosion in 2017, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Melville-based Bouchard Transportation Co. Inc., which says it's the nation's largest independently owned oceangoing petroleum barge company, made the filing Monday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Houston.

In a statement announcing the filing, the company said it plans to restructure operations and continue to pay employees, suppliers and other vendors.

Bouchard said it intends to use "debtor-in-possession financing," which lets companies continue to do business using property to which creditors have a legal claim.

The company's fleet includes 25 barges and 26 tugboats in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.

The filing, which includes several subsidiaries, estimates the company's assets at $500 million to $1 billion and its liabilities at $100 million to $500 million.

The largest unsecured debt listed was $17.4 million owed to VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Calls seeking comment from chief executive Morton Bouchard III and the company's legal representative in the bankruptcy filing, Jackson Walker LLP, were not immediately returned.

An October 2017 explosion onboard a company barge off Port Aransas, Texas, killed two crew members, released about 2,000 barrels of crude oil into the sea and caused more than $5 million damage to the vessel, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report.

The report said the probable cause was ignition of flammable vapor from a crude oil leak that could have been averted with proper maintenance.

In 2004, the company pleaded guilty to violations of the Clean Water Act and was fined $10 million for an oil spill the previous year that befouled 90 miles of coastline in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts.

In 2014, New York Power Authority accused Bouchard of damaging an underwater cable near Hempstead Harbor. NYPA, which operates the cable, said it was damaged by an anchor dropped by a Bouchard tugboat and barge. NYPA sought repair costs of $34 million.

In March, the company's CEO issued an open letter to staff, customers and vendors saying that it was working to raise capital and it was processing delayed payments. That came in the wake of reports that unpaid crews were stranded offshore in several locations as the company failed to make payments to allow the vessels to berth.

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